Mayor hears from constituents in meeting at city hall

Levelland Mayor Barbra Pinner organized a meeting with community members Tuesday at Levelland City Hall with hopes of apologizing to individuals in-person regarding a racially charged Facebook post she shared Saturday.

On her personal Facebook page, Pinner shared a post that used a racial slur referring to Black people approximately 20 times. On Facebook, individuals began sharing the post and calling for the mayor’s resignation.

Monday, members of the community gathered on the downtown square to voice concerns regarding the post.

Before 4 p.m. that day, when the event was to start, the mayor issued a public statement in which she apologized for the post that she shared.

The City of Levelland also issued a press release stating the views reflected in the mayor’s shared post did not reflect the values of the City of Levelland.

However, individuals who were present at the downtown event Monday said they wanted the opportunity to address the mayor in-person, along with a personal apology.

At the start of the meeting Tuesday, Glenda Moore-Jones welcomed everyone who was in attendance and said this was not a “lynch mob” and “everybody is entitled to their own opinion.”

“One of the things that came up was that some of us would have liked for the mayor to have been in attendance [Monday] to give us a formal apology,” Jones said. “That’s why she’s here today. We’ve talked at great lengths about everything. I’m not here as a lynch mob, everybody is entitled to their own opinion. She realizes a mistake was made, she’s here to explain her side of what happened.”

Mayor Pinner told the crowd of between 50 and 60 people, most of whom were of the Black community, that she wanted to apologize.

“Saturday morning, I was sitting in my pajamas looking at my Facebook page. I read that post and I shared it, and I shouldn’t have,” Pinner said. “I read the content, but it wasn’t the right thing to do and I know I’m an elected official; I know I am held to a higher standard. I made a huge mistake and I can’t do anything but say I am so sorry. I know I hurt people.

“I’ve lost your trust, I’m sorry. I’m still the same person that I’ve always been, I’m still here for you, for our whole community, I love our community, I have loved being mayor for the last five years and it hurts my heart to know I hurt somebody by that post,” Pinner continued. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Pinner said that when she reads something, she tends to “block out words I don’t like.”

“I guess that’s what I did,” Pinner said.

She went on to say that “God gives us grace every day” and that she hopes the community would show her the same kind of grace and forgiveness.

“I still want to be the leader in this town, I want to gain your trust, I want to be here for you and I am here for you, I’ve always been here,” Pinner said. “All I can do is ask your forgiveness and promise it won’t happen again.”’

Pinner said what she took from the post was the message and that she didn’t intend to offend anyone. She went on to explain that the post, which was allegedly written by an older Black veteran, reminded her of her father.

“It reminded me of my daddy. My daddy was really poor growing up, we were not well off. My daddy quit school at the ninth grade so he could go to work and went into the service. He was a carpenter,” Pinner said. “He made a good living. He could have said I’m not going to do that, I don’t have enough, I don’t have an education, I can’t make something of myself. But he didn’t. Regardless of our station in life, we can make something of ourselves. That part touched my heart. I didn’t think about how it would hurt. I’m so sorry.”

Annie Johnson told the mayor how the post personally offended her.

“You’re going to sit there and tell me your daddy was poor too? My daddy was, too, but my daddy was a loving man and he used to get kicked and beat but he loved all people,” Johnson said. “He taught us to be somebody. He didn’t tell us we were this and we were that, and the other, to put us down. This affects me personally because I take it personally because of what you did.”

“You thought nothing of what it would appear like to us. It’s like all the other folks do us, and with what’s going on in this world, you’ve got nerves enough to sit there and try to pacify us,” Johnson said. “The pacifying is over, and you are wrong.”

Kimberley Young, a Levelland resident, said that there was a pattern of problematic posts on Mayor Pinner’s personal Facebook page that perpetuate negative stereotypes, particularly in regards to Black men.

“That is not the first problematic post,” Young said. “Mrs. Pinner you have a consistency of posting [things] perpetuating negative stereotypes, especially towards Black men.

“You would know that there are several young, positive, good role models in Levelland, but you never come to Juneteenth,” Young said. “You show up for the photo opportunity, but you never come to Juneteenth. Mrs. Pinner, you are problematic and it’s time for you to step aside.”

Young pointed out to the group that was gathered that the City of Levelland cannot remove Mayor Pinner from her position as she is an elected official. However, she said that if a petition garnered signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters in Levelland, the city would be required to hold a recall election.

“We don’t have to wait until 2021 when she’s up for re-election,” Young said. “We are not going to twiddle our thumbs until 2021. If we all get together, we can remove her.”

Gordon Harris and Phyllis Gant, both members of the Lubbock Chapter of the NAACP, were also in attendance at the meeting. Harris said that what Young pointed out was correct. He also said that the residents could file a lawsuit against both the City of Levelland and Mayor Pinner herself.

Shad Whitfield, a Levelland resident, asked the mayor if she would have read that post to the group who was gathered Tuesday before she posted it to Facebook.

“Would you dare read that document to all of us? Would you have read that to all of our faces. You posted it on Facebook. But, would you have read it to us, to our faces?” He asked.

The mayor answered no, and went on to ask the individuals if they had ever made an error in judgment.

“We get you made a mistake, you keep talking about scripture but even in the Bible, you have consequences and there’s accountability,” Young said. “You need to be held accountable. We can’t just let you walk through this and say I’m sorry, oops, because if you do it once, you’ll do it again.”

Gant, a representative in attendance from the NAACP, asked Pinner pointedly if she was going to resign. Pinner said she did not intend to resign. At that time, citizens began leaving and the meeting ended.

Two Lubbock residents, who are former residents of Levelland, Melanie Robins and Darrell Phillips, also spoke during the meeting to express their concerns with what Mayor Pinner had shared on Facebook.

In an interview with the News-Press Wednesday, Pinner said her intent in hosting the meeting was to formally, personally, apologize to the community that she had hurt.

“[My intent] was to try and mend the hearts and hopefully for them to see my heart,” Pinner said. “What I did was so wrong, but it wasn’t done with malice, with hate in my heart. I wanted to get in front of them and say I love you, I love every part of my town. I need to gain back that trust. I’ve never aspired to do this job, but I love it and I’ve got to mend those hearts.”

Pinner also said the reason why she wasn’t resigning was because she was afraid it would cause division within the community.

“I don’t think that’s the answer, I think that would divide our town even more,” Pinner said. “I do have a lot of support in this town, and that would divide our town even more. I certainly don’t want that, that’s the last thing I want is to cause division in our town and I think it would. I don’t think that’s going to resolve anything if I resign. I want to be able to prove myself again, that I love the Black community, I love the whole town.”

Pinner also said the reason why the media wasn’t invited and why news cameras weren’t allowed in the room is because the meeting was supposed to be an intimate group of people.

“This was supposed to be a small, intimate group. I thought it would be about 25 people and I’d be able to sit down with a small group,” Pinner said. “If I could have gone from one house and had coffee and talked to one person, if we could have had the meeting here at my home, I would have. It was supposed to be, and I thought, that it was going to be a smaller group. It was just supposed to be a smaller group of people that I could talk with and try to share my heart.”

Pinner said she hoped that she would be able to talk with Black constituents and come up with a solution moving forward.

“I felt like I was being attacked, but maybe that’s how they felt when I shared that post, which was not my intent at all,” Pinner said. “All I could do was try to be available. I want to continue to support our whole community, whatever ethnicity. I want to be a part of that community and be loved and accepted by them.”

She said in the past five years since she has been mayor, she has done more than the post she shared Saturday. But, she feels by resigning, everything she had done to this point would be forgotten.

“Over the five years I’ve been mayor, I’ve proven I do care about our whole town. I guess it hurts, too, because one thing is now defining me,” Pinner said. “That hurts. That we can’t say, but look at all the other good things she’s done. I understand that, but I don’t want that to define me. I don’t want that to be my defining moment.”

She said she has not changed her mind about her decision to not resign. Instead, she wants to demonstrate that she is willing to move forward with awareness and regain the trust of Black citizens in Levelland.

Pinner said she had talked with Erik Rejino, city manager, and requested he look into hosting a diversity training for the entire city council.

“I think that would be helpful to our whole council,” Pinner said.

Also, moving forward, Pinner said she will continue to let God lead her heart and try to be better.

“I pray that God leads me and guides me in everything I do, but none of us are perfect,” Pinner said. “All I can do is do the best I can do. We’re all going to make mistakes and that one was a huge mistake. If I could turn back time, I would, but I can’t. I want to be more aware of people’s feelings. We have never walked in other people’s shoes, any other race. I can’t walk in anyone else’s shoes. I can only try to see things through their eyes and through their heart.”

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